Etsy’s Next Stage of Growth & Disruption

Etsy Inc. is a global two-sided online marketplace for unique and creative goods. The company was founded in 2005 to serve as a seller-focused online storefront for craftsmen and artisans. Etsy offers a simpler, more convenient and lower fee alternative to large consumer-focused platforms like Amazon and eBay, creating a new market of independent creators and micro-entrepreneurs. As of October 2020, there were more than 3.7 million active sellers and approximately 69.6 million active buyers on the marketplace[1].

Etsy was challenged as an “unfocused” company with declining profitability

Following its successful IPO in August 2015, the company experienced several financial, operational, and competitive challenges that resulted in a 9-month long decline in the stock price. Etsy’s profitability was challenged as slowing sales coincided with increased marketing expenses. Additionally, the Company faced competitive pressure as Amazon launched its own artisan marketplace (Amazon Handmade) in October 2015, which sought to commoditize Etsy’s offering.

Etsy also struggled operationally with a lack of focus and a myriad of half-baked new business ventures. At one point, “there were some 800 business development initiatives underway at a company with a staff of fewer than 1,000”.[2] Etsy had lacked a disciplined, profit-focused approach to resource management which hindered growth and profit potential. New initiatives had strained the resources of the company and Etsy neglected its core competencies that were necessary to deliver a superior buyer experience. 

Etsy’s turnaround began with a renewed focus on buyers and profit-driving initiatives

In May 2017, Etsy’s former CEO Chad Dickerson was replaced by Josh Silverman, an Etsy board member, to drive platform growth and profitability. Silverman brought an increasing focus on buyers, instead of sellers, and profit-driving initiatives to the company. For example, one of his early decisions was to shut down Etsy Studio, a new business venture that had been introduced to sell craft supplies to Etsy sellers and encourage aspiring sellers to join the platform.

The focus on buyers has allowed Etsy to narrow the scope of its initiatives to key “jobs” being demanded by its buyers, such as product search, payment, checkout and shipping. For example, Etsy has since made it easier for buyers to find products, return items and checkout as guests. These initiatives have resulted in consistent year-over-year growth in buyers (new and repeat), gross merchandise sales and sellers. The takeaway: Etsy’s seller success is dependent on the buyer’s experience and buyers drive platform loyalty. 

Etsy must now grow its core marketplace And invest in disruptive products and businesses

As Etsy continues to mature and competition increases, it will need to strike a delicate balance between emergent opportunities and a deliberate strategy to grow its core marketplace – moving too far upmarket invites disruption. Additionally, Etsy will need to be thoughtful of how it pursues new opportunities as it seeks new channels of growth.

In August 2019, Etsy acquired Reverb Holdings, Inc., a leading global online marketplace dedicated to buying and selling new, used, and vintage musical instruments.[3] While there are many similarities and synergies between the two businesses’ creative communities and platforms, Etsy will allow Reverb to operate as a standalone business. Etsy’s acquisition reveals several insights on how the company views new entrants and future competition.

  • Etsy views Reverb as a disruptor that requires separate resources, processes and profit formulas. Unlike Etsy, Reverb only charges a 3.5% transaction fee and there are no listing fees for sellers.
  • Reverb had the potential to become a future direct competitor by moving upmarket, offering new creative product categories on its platform. Reverb’s hyper-focused approach on the buying and selling of musical instruments enabled it to uniquely enter and disrupt the creative marketplace industry and establish a strong core.
  • Etsy’s acquisition suggests that the company feels more confident about its core business today than it did in 2017 and is now taking a broader approach to growth.

Etsy’s recent acquisition runs parallel to a number of its sustaining innovation initiatives. The interdependence between buyers and sellers on the platform, or network effect, requires that Etsy continue to innovate for both parties. Optional value-added services, such as Offsite Ads and Etsy Shipping Labels, demonstrate how Etsy is exploring new products and services to differentiate from competitors and new entrants. Offsite Ads solves the seller’s job of marketing her storefront on other platforms to increase visitors and sales; Etsy pays an upfront cost to promote Etsy sellers’ listings across internet platforms and a seller will pay Etsy an advertising fee only on the sale of that order. Similarly, Etsy Shipping Labels serves to remove seller friction with the cost and time spent on shipping by providing discounted shipping labels that can be printed at home. This benefit also extends to solving buyers’ problems with inaccurate delivery estimates, delayed shipments and incorrect addresses. Both Offsite Ads and Etsy Shipping Labels bring more efficiency, defensibility and revenue to the platform.

Fifteen years later, Etsy is now more an incumbent than it is a new market disruptor. As such, Etsy’s strategy will need to evolve with the new challenges that emerge for an incumbent. How can Etsy avoid disruption in the future?

Etsy must now confront the same challenge that created an opportunity for its unique entry. With more than 60 million sellers on the platform, Etsy’s sellers are facing new barriers to visibility with buyers: non-first page listings are less likely discovered and therefore, less likely to drive sales. Moreover, Etsy’s recent change to its search algorithms prioritizes listings that offer free shipping, further limiting who belongs on the first page of search and cutting into sellers’ profit margins. As discoverability becomes expensive for sellers, this creates opportunities for new entrants. To avoid disruption, Etsy should continue to invest in solutions that help sellers attract new buyers and personalize the search experience based on a buyer’s needs instead of profit-driven logic such as prioritizing ad-paying, high margin sellers in search results. Additionally, sellers’ and buyer’s emotional needs should be equally prioritized with functional needs to help sustain a purpose brand, foster community and drive lifetime value.

Acquisitions serve as another inorganic growth strategy for an incumbent and help create defensibility again disruption. However, this strategy risks introducing new challenges to the core business, most notably the decision to integrate the target company into the core or incubate it in a different business unit. A key question for management as the core marketplace grows in sellers and expands its product categories is: How will Etsy avoid cannibalization between its core and vertical-focused business units as the businesses mature and scale? Management should consider the breadth of product categories available on the core marketplace if it pursues a strategy of creating a portfolio of adjacent marketplaces that target specific community and product verticals. Alternatively, where resources, processes and profit formulas of a target company align with that of the core Etsy business, management should consider folding the target into the core marketplace, treating the acquisition as sustaining innovation.

Etsy has had a rich history of changes to its strategy, which has allowed it to grow its market share and compete against incumbents like Amazon and Ebay. The company is once again at an inflection point as it assumes the role of an incumbent. Many of the strategies that allowed Etsy to create a new market may no longer apply. Etsy’s future growth will be derived from a combination of a more deliberate strategy of scaling its core marketplace and investments in new disruptive products and businesses.


[1] Etsy Q3 2020 Financial Results (October 2020)

[2] How Etsy Crafted an E-Commerce Comeback; by Phil Wahba for Fortune, July 25, 2019, (https://fortune.com/2019/07/25/etsy-ecommerce-growth-strategies/)

[3] Etsy announcement about Reverb acquisition, accessed August 15, 2019, https://investors.etsy.com/press-releases/press-release-details/2019/Etsy-Completes-Acquisition-of-Reverb-a-Leading-Online-Marketplace-for-New-Used-and-Vintage-Musical-Instruments/default.aspx

Menagerie Joins Matter VC

Today’s couples are planning their own weddings. But in a world without the wedding planner and the success of their wedding contingent upon hiring the right vendors, they are spending more than 150 hours searching and emailing vendors for quotes, organizing their research in spreadsheets, and managing their wedding costs and emotions.

Content platforms, such as Pinterest, may have brought wedding inspiration to the masses but have failed to assist couples with execution — photos often redirect users to blogs and e-commerce sites that have reposted the vendors’ works for content on their own sites. Couples are victims to their wedding vision without a way to easily find the vendors they need and understand the cost of their wedding aspirations.

Current wedding tools, such as spreadsheets, complicate rather than simplify the planning process. The Knot and Weddingwire provide checklists as a primary tool for managing wedding details and tracking progress; however, checklists fall short of functionality. These tools lack the beautiful, stress-free wedding experience that they ultimately intend to deliver.

Today’s engaged couple is online. They want to be actionable and efficient with wedding planning, not just inspirational. These are the modern challenges of wedding planning.

In a perfect world, we’d be able to resolve these problems and plan our weddings seamlessly online. Well, my co-founder, Harlan, and I believe we create the world we want to live in, and so we started Menagerie.

Menagerie makes it easy for modern couples to collaborate, organize and confidently choose the right wedding professionals, all in one place.

Menagerie Co-founders: Harlan Mikove (left) and Tiffany Stone (right)

Harlan and I are veterans of the startup community, and specifically startups that combined platform-enabled solutions with new industry business models to democratize desired products and services traditionally unaccessible and expensive to individuals. We are strong believers that many traditional industries have yet to evolve to deliver more convenience, resolve sustained pain points, and empower their workforces. Our own experiences with weddings and startups made us believe the wedding industry was finally due for this change.

From working with David’s Bridal in 2012, I knew that many of the existing wedding players were once again reaching an inflection point. Their ad-reliant business models hinder their capability and pace of delivering solutions to address the above-mentioned challenges of wedding planning; because while they search for a disruptive play, they are still being held to the existing metrics of their business. The absence of such solutions was evident in the behaviors of my engaged friends and also for Harlan when he was planning his wedding not too long ago. Additionally, from Harlan’s experiences with Work Market, Lot18 and co-founding Reonomy, it was clear to him that this was another opportunity to combine technology, data and talent to deliver a desired experience and better solution for individuals.

Our team meeting Bridezillas at the NY Bridal Expo

However, it wasn’t until we began meeting brides, grooms and vendors at wedding expos that it occurred to us that there has never been a better time than now to build Menagerie.

Most couples we met were navigating the wedding planning on their own, which reflected the recent growing popularity of wedding coordinators and partial-service or month-of wedding planners in the past five years. Couples also expressed frustration with the overwhelming amount of online content that did not ease the learning curve or decision-making process. While talking with vendors, they spewed their frustration with the high costs of visibility with more custom service vendors entering the market (i.e. $500/month to list on The Knot with no guaranteed bookings). Vendors also confessed to their high spending on branding, development and business tools.

We found ourselves at the intersection of these major business, technology and wedding trends. We discovered the vision we shared was no longer a luxury but a necessity. So we got to work.

An engaged couple interacting with Menagerie during NY Bridal Fashion Week!

Today, Menagerie is helping couples in New York by matching them with vendors that fit their vision, budget and preferences. At the same time, we have also helped many wedding professionals remove the high costs and barriers to gaining customers.

While we’re excited about what we’ve built today, we’re even more excited about tomorrow and those that will be joining us along the way! This summer, we are joining Matter to help us accelerate our future and achieve our wedding vision.

To receive the latest updates from Menagerie, sign up at www.menagerie.me

Follow Menagerie on Instagram, Facebook, or send an email to tiffany@menagerie.me to say hello.

The Future As We Saw It At SXSW

A few days at SXSW is enough to challenge your current perspective and expectations of the future of markets, industries, technologies and human behavior. This year at SXSW Interactive, social media, connectivity (IoT), 3D printing, healthtech and sustainability were all major topics of discussion.

Social Media

The newest member to the tech community, Meerkat, proved that video is the future as a form of communication between individuals, not just brands to individuals, and that communities quickly form around the sharing of short, real-time and visual content. Meerkat successfully leveraged an existing social network, Twitter, to create overnight communities and viral content.

The challenge now will be how Meerkat can continue to grow independently and maintain engagement on its own platform as Twitter has limited Meerkat’s access to its social graph going forward. Piggy-backing large social networks is nothing new and neither are the lessons learned – take for example Zynga and Facebook.

With so much content flooding the twitter streams during SXSW, from meerkat tweets to keynote quotes to party pictures, the hashtag proved its power and necessity to individuals. With the hashtag, you were able to find everything related to a campaign, event, brand, discussion all in real-time and instantly react to it. #FOMO would be even worse without the hashtag.

At a panel called “Breaking News in the Age of Snapchat”, a White House Senior Advisor, Dan Pfeiffer, and News and Guts CEO, Dan Rather, emphasized the distinction between news and content. Social media has completely redefined who is a reporter and the role of a reporter. With the barriers of information distribution removed, traditional systems will need to adapt quickly to these new channels to be able to manage their own content and distribution (but of course there will never again be complete ownership of information with the growing adoption of social media across the world). I share the same views that live-streaming video services will do to television news what blogs did to printed news.

Transportation

Lyft stepped up its game with Lyft Line, while the SXSW shuttle was a total fail and ultimately converted shuttle pass holders to lyft riders. With Lyft, there was a $10 fixed price per ride as long as you requested Lyft Line. Profitability aside, the campaign was successful with new lyft users and communicated loud and clear its mission – to reconnect people and communities through better transportation. Would love to see some of those numbers from Lyft after SXSW.

The limited transportation options in Austin was also a reminder that there is much innovation needed still in transportation, including public transit, real-time navigation and road closure/traffic/accident notifications, and parking. Most recently, Leap Buses launched in SF to provide a more convenient public transportation solution that enables riders to continue their mobile experience on the bus and access wifi, food and drinks all from their phones. It’s no doubt that connectivity is the next big thing in transportation.

Leap Buses also makes me wonder if individuals are willing to pay a premium to ride Leap Buses because of their need to access wifi while in transit or if they just want the more luxurious experience compared to the regular buses. Or maybe they want to be surrounded by the type of people who value the availability and use of such technologies – tech-savvy individuals are a new class in our society that now exist between the upper middle class and upper class. These type of people are the ones who have transformed Uber into a successful global luxury brand.

At the Interactive Innovation Awards, there was indeed a transportation category and the company that won was Guide Dots – an audio-based guide app for the visually impaired.

Diversity and Workforce

Diversity was a big topic this year at SXSW, while the Pao vs. Kleiner trial continues. I appreciated that more industry leaders, including many women, voiced their opinions about evaluating individuals not based on ethnicity, gender or sexuality but based on their unique background and what they bring to the table. I truly believe that until companies and individuals stop encouraging women and employing or promoting them in order to “achieve” diversity in their workforce, will we be able to reach equality. Equality is not in the numbers, its in the mindset.

Princess Reema’s keynote on the taboos and struggles women face in Saudi Arabia was definitely a highlight at SXSW.

We are at the heart of the “mobile workforce movement” as Kevin Gibbon, CEO of Shyp, calls it. On-demand services such as Uber, Lyft, 3D Hubs, TaskRabbit, Seamless, Wun Wun, and many others enabled individuals to create value with their idle talent, time and assets. I’m particularly excited to see so many individuals become merchants of their own skills and small business owners. As the mobile workforce grows, we will begin to re-define what it means to be a contractor or part-time employee, and tangent industries such as insurance will evolve to service this new workforce (Check out how my friend Tristan Zier’s startup Zen99 is supporting contractors).

HealthTech

I noticed a growing presence and emphasis on HealthTech at SXSW this year, including a health and medtech expo at the JW Marriott Hotel. We are seeing more technology applications in the healthcare space (Go SOLS!) and there is a lot of discussion about the future of remote [self] diagnosis, health monitoring from afar, preventative solutions and use of wearables. Many venture capital firms have recognized this opportunity and need for innovation and healthcare and have already begun investing heavily in this space.

We are seeing new tools for diagnosis, such as the aliveCor and Cell scope that have re-invented the stethoscope and otoscope, respectively. However, on the wearables side, there is struggle to establish trust and engagement with both the consumers and providers. We continue to see a high drop-off rate with consumer engagement with wearables; the length of use is not long enough for the consumer to benefit from the device’s collection of the individual’s data. As such, the consumer is unable to see or benefit from the long-term use of the wearable. There needs to be a series of measurements over time and visual data to help individuals understand their health and encourage preventative behavior (i.e. decreased smoking benefits are made aware to the consumer through the wearable)

While I agree that the fashion first approach is necessary at the point of purchase with the consumer, incentivizing individuals to buy the product, it does not prevent the product from becoming an idle asset (My Nike Fuelband looks great on my dresser…).

Ayesha Khalid beautifully summarized one of the most pressing questions in healthtech: “How can information from all these apps and devices feed to EMR providers to enable effective and consistent information sharing between the patient and provider for more accurate health monitoring and diagnosis?”

When at SXSW in 2016…

Convinced you’re going to be at SXSW in 2016? Great – here are just a few tips before you set out for next year then.

– Pick out your top hotels for the day and just jump in and out of talks at that location. Each hotel has a theme.
– Pick talks on topics that are foreign to you. This is an opportunity to learn not to reassure your knowledge on a topic or justify your opinions.
– The keynote speakers is a Must attend! Illuminating, educational and inspirational talks from industry leaders.
– Explore topics across industries – finance, health, fashion, enterprise, etc. This is your chance to gain a holistic view on the latest leading technologies in the world.
– Challenge yourself throughout the week to meet someone new. SXSW is one of the best and most natural ways to meet people.
– Party. But don’t party too hard – lesson learned.

Tiffany’s Birthday Fundraiser for BrightEyes

Please help me celebrate my 25th birthday by joining me in contributing to BrightEyes, a mentorship program dedicated to providing college students a unique opportunity to explore different career paths.

Four years ago, I started BrightEyes in hopes to make mentorship and career opportunities more accessible to students. With your help and generosity, we will be able to send a class of students to San Francisco, where they will be able to meet with their role models and future mentors as well as tour leading companies in startup, tech and venture capital.

I’ve also decided that I would be matching the total donations made on my campaign page, up to $1,000, so please consider giving!

To be successful, we all require someone willing to invest in our potential and vision. We’ve all had someone invest in us along the way. Join me in investing in these students’ vision and potential.

Contribute to BrightEyes: http://brighteyes-students.org/donations/

If you are not in a position to donate monetarily, please like BrightEyes on Facebook and share the program with friends & family, on Facebook, Twitter, and anywhere else you’d like!

Thank you for helping me celebrate my birthday this year.

Joining the SOLS Family

Ever since I learned about 3D printing, I’ve been fascinated with the technology and even more excited about it’s many applications across all industries.  What makes 3D printing special is the ability to customize at scale in a short amount of time.  Although 3D printing has been around for over 30 years, its place in the consumer space is only beginning to be realized.  We are now seeing experimentation with everything from game figurines to home decor to orthotics.

Today, I am excited to share that I am joining the SOLS family.  At SOLS, the team is focused on creating products custom to the human body and movement, empowering individuals to move in new ways and push their physical limits.  SOLS is improving our human abilities one step at a time.

SOLS